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Unlocking the potential of the Carbon Project

07 July 2020

In his latest blog, ICE President Paul Sheffield looks back at the recent launch of ICE's State of the Nation report and hopes that policy makers will act quickly to unlock the potential contained in the paper.

Unlocking the potential of the Carbon Project
ICE President Paul Sheffield

The 2020 State of the Nation report was published on 1 July - looking at the contribution of the UK’s infrastructure systems in achieving the UK Government’s Net-Zero target for 2050.

It recommends a series of policy solutions to overcome the challenges for achieving that target.

Whilst 2050 might sound a long way away, we have to remember that if new projects are not being delivered in a carbon neutral way by 2030-35 then we will have no chance of reaching our goal - mandated by law - to be achieved by 2050.

It should also be rememberedthat - on the basis we only build or replace 0.5% of our existing infrastructure every year - 85% of the infrastructure assets we use by then will be more than 30 years old (i.e. existing today). We must thereforeget to grips with the retrofit of our existing infrastructure to help on the journey.

Nearly 700 people “attended” our virtual launch which just shows how many people are truly interested in this topic (and of course how easy it is to link in with discussions of interest through the media of web based conferencing).

State of the Nation 2020
State of the Nation 2020

Whilst there is no single 'silver bullet' that can be used to define the actions we need to take, the report does give some practical advice to policy makers that we hope will be adopted speedily to unlock the potential. Whilst the Government has mandated the target, it is clear that they don’t have a plan (yet) - they need one (quickly). The Green Book review is under way and it is a prime opportunity for it to be revised in a way that reflects Net-Zero's a cornerstone policy driver - as well as recognising social value opportunities to level up the economy. There is also a vital opportunity to use the power of procurement to “ask the right question” of the supply chain (whether consultants, contractors or suppliers) to make sure that those who care and invest in our future are encouraged and rewarded for doing so - whilst those who don’t have the foresight and strategic vision lose out, despite perhaps being “cheaper” today.

Skills is another key area where the report focuses - ensuring that we plan well for a future green industry and that schools, FE colleges, businesses and government are all joined up on the imperative of competence and capability. The need to devolve some powers to act as a local catalyst to green development is also highlighted and it confronts the conundrum of “who pays” - the taxpayer or the consumer?

The Contracts for Difference mechanism that has been used for the last 20 years has been hugely successful in catapulting new technologies on to the world stage and making the price competitive and should be retained in some way. And of course, the issue of personal behaviour can’t be ignored in all of this. There needs to be an accompanying education programme around all of this that will help people to understand their role in creating and supporting this future.

The Carbon Project

Of course this launch is just the start and it is really pleasing to see that ICE is working on a number of strands that will pull together over the next 12 months as we target the triennial meeting of the ICE, ASCE and Canadian CSCE next May where we will focus on tackling climate change.I know that Rachel Skinner - next year’s’ President - is right at the forefront of all that work as she prepares for her year.

Projects under way around data collection and benchmarking, capability and systems will all aim to report back in the autumn this year with the objective of helping individuals, projects and organisations look at best practice around the industry.They will and also offerideas on how they might play their part whilst avoiding reinventing the wheel and wasting resources in doing so. All of that of course then leads to COP 26 (Edinburgh) which has been delayed to November 2021.

Enabling Better Infrastructure - Northern Ireland

I visited Belfast at the start of my year andwhilst there I met with the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Infrastructure. Frustration was evident at the lack of visibility of funding and planning for the development of infrastructure over the long term. Having recently launched the global Enabling Better Infrastructure paper, we offered to create a NI specific version and I had the pleasure of being able to launch the paper at a virtualconference on Monday 29 June at an event chaired by Emer Murnaghan (ICE VP) and with John Glass (ICE Chair NI) also on the panel. Feedback from the industry is that the paper has been very well received and will hopefully help the Government make its case for a long term funding agreement and then to put in place an Infrastructure Commission to help come up with an Infrastructure plan for the country.

Regional visits

I have engaged on numerous virtualregional visits over the last few weeksincluding the East and West Midlands, North West, South Wales, East of England and South East of England - together with an International student chapter session. Overall, we have been able to speak with around 1,000 people from across our regions in the month which is a tribute to the enthusiasm of our organisers and members to join in.

ICE Policy breakfast meetings with both Conservative and Labour MP’s and a strategy session on the role of innovation in the water industry have also been key events in the period. Whilst frustrating that I haven't been able to meet anyone “in the flesh” over the last 12 weeks it is quite extraordinary how many people we have been able to communicate with on the various web platforms since lockdown - with around 2,000 this last threeweeks alone.

There has to be big lessons for us all to take away from this - people do find it very convenient and it is a big time (and carbon) saver for all attendees. The missing ingredient is hard to replace though - and that is because we are all social creatures at heart.

Read the State of the Nation Report

  • Paul Sheffield, President 2019-2020 at ICE